How Twitter changed my life

In November 2011 my wife Kerry attended the Stonewall Leadership Programme. A truly life changing course that taught her a huge amount about role models and what it meant to be a gay leader in the workplace. One of the things she brought home was how important it was to her and the others on the course to be in a room with their peers. As a gay woman it’s something she doesn’t have in her day to day job. She has a peer group at work but not a peer group that she can see herself mirrored in or observe obvious role models. Essentially, they are all straight. It was immensely powerful for her to be in a room of people who all had a shared core.

This came at a time when I was at home with our daughter, socialising with a small group of friends, mostly with children. I was missing the daily socialising of like-minded people I had had through work and looking to find something other than mums talking about their children. I wanted more than development milestones and cute stories. I wanted books and education and culture and politics and news. I wanted to find my peer group, my community.

And so I used Twitter. I followed journalists from the Guardian that I no longer managed to buy and read, I looked up authors that I loved and people that I looked up to. I followed their conversations and found more of the same. Suddenly I knew what was happening in the world again. I was following the news. I knew what books were coming out, even if I didn’t manage to read many of them. I found Stella Duffy and Caitlin Moran who re-politicised me. Shelley Harris who was immensely generous with her advice and encouragement to writers and readers. Isabel Costello and Zoe Toft who did all the hard work looking through all the newly published books and presented me with gem after gem on their reviewing sites. I was reading again, I was writing again, I was drawing again. I was thinking and learning and engaging with the world again.

That was when we all found out that Amazon weren’t paying their taxes. I needed to find somewhere new to buy my books, somewhere more ethical and real. I looked up local independent bookshops on Zoe’s site and found Bags of Books. A lovely children’s bookshop in Lewes, not that far up the road. It just so happened that there was an author event with Clara Vulliamy coming up that we could take our daughter to. We did just that and we had a lovely morning listening to stories, chatting with Clara and making tiny mouse houses out of match boxes. Afterwards, what better way to say thank you to Clara than to look her up on twitter? I looked her up that same weekend and we haven’t stopped chatting.

And now I feel like I have really found my peer group, that community of like-minded people that I fit with and can see myself in. I have started Rhino Reads and The Rainbow Library. I have role models and have become a role model to others. I have found friends and inspiration. I have found support and advice. I have found my place. So thank you to Stonewall for showing us the importance of peer groups and role models. Thank you to my lovely friendly twitter community, particularly those mentioned above and the Rainbow Library crew of children’s book authors, illustrators and bloggers. And thank you to my wife for sharing her Stonewall learnings so enthusiastically and honestly.

I can read a rainbow

This week was Mollie’s last week at nursery for this school year.

I used my last hours of free time wisely and productively.

Inspired by Shelley Harris’ colour co-ordinated books, I decided to organise mine into a rainbow. I got this far…

And then a coffee break showed me that it wasn’t really working. My books are shelved under the stairs in the hallway. As you come in to the hall you see them gradually from the left side of the bookshelves. You couldn’t get the full joy of the rainbow.

So I tried again.

It still needs a bit of tweaking. But It’s looking gorgeous.

I learnt a lot while turning my bookshelves into a rainbow. I learnt that sequins really do get everywhere in my house.

I learnt that shelves that have been designed and built to fit my books don’t lend themselves to this level of messing about.

At one point all my pink books were by lesbian authors. I quite liked that.

I learnt that turquoise is a tricky colour.

Brown was also an issue.

At one point I was quite tempted to go out and buy some yellow books to even up the balance a bit.

I learnt that I am more anal than I thought. And that I have a lot of books. But the biggest surprise was how well I know my books. Initially I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find a book if I messed with them but it turns out that I know my books pretty well. I know what colour a book is and how creased the spine is and how faded it has become and where in the rainbow it is likely to sit.

I learnt that I appreciate my kindle and the flexibility it gives me but that I really love my books. Even more so now that I have given them a bit of love and they look so beautiful.

Next week… Mollie’s library!

Summer Survival (or using my daughter to live out my dreams)

It is nearly time for The Summer Holidays. Mollie has one week left at nursery and then eight weeks off. EIGHT! Bye bye writing time. Bye reading time. See ya sanity.

Eight weeks.

I need a project. Something that Mollie and I can do together. Something sanity saving that we can do on the inevitable deluge of rainy days. Something that wont need space or silence, ’cause there certainly won’t be much of that, but will provide sustenance for my book cravings.

I’ve got it! I will encourage hers!

Mollie has just turned three. She loves books. Hooray! She has loved books since she was alert enough to notice them. Exploring books and reading together is a big part of our family life. Mollie has a bedtime story (or six) every night and crammed bookshelves that she delves into during the day. She enjoys making up crazy and hilarious stories and songs and generally playing with words.
I think she’s got the book bug!
My wife and I both grew up with (and through) books and I want to encourage Mollie’s interest and empower her with the ability to read.

So here’s my Plan for Summer Holidays Survival

I will take her book shopping.
To real bookshops. Where she can touch and smell the books and look at the pictures and discover new authors and illustrators. Where she can see first hand the difference between new books and books that have been loved by others- and might have secret surprises scrawled inside the covers. Where she can start choosing her own books to bring home and devour.

I will take her to the library.
I have fond memories of the children’s section of the library where I grew up. It had a magical feel to it. It felt like freedom and peace and potential. It was exciting and full of unexplored words and worlds. I would devour fiction, explore craft books for inspiration, touch and smell all the books.
Our local library is small but has a wonderful children’s section. There’s a great range of books and enough space for the children to explore them. There’s a chair in the shape of a rocket that the kids can sit inside with their books. There is story time and singing time. And there are librarians who are kind and knowledgeable and passionate about books.
Libraries are incredible resources and we need to use them before we lose them. We’ve been taking Mollie to the library since she was a baby, but if I’m honest, I don’t take her often enough now that she goes to nursery. So we will go and we will see what we can learn.

We’ll read together.
I truly believe that learning to read involves more than phonics. It’s about instilling a love of words, books and pictures. It’s learning the connections between words and pictures, words and other words, words and their meanings.
So yes, I’ll teach her phonics, but I’ll also teach her about books and words and illustrations and rhymes and typography and authors and illustrators and drama and singing. Michael Rosen is very articulate about this on his blog here.
I like him. I think I’ll get Mollie some more of his books.

I will make her a virtual library
After a Twitter exchange with Gillian Stern about her daughter’s reading progression from Maisy to Marquez, I started thinking about Mollie’s love for books and how quickly she is progressing. That led me to think about all the books she has read and loved in her little life, how she favours some and asks for others when she’s in a particular mood. I often wish I’d kept a book journal when I was younger, so Mollie’s Library is my attempt to use my daughter to live out my dream – parental prerogative!

And for me…

I will turn this…

…into something that resembles this…

20120708-182721.jpg

Beautiful, isn’t it. I want a rainbow bookcase!
It’s Shelley Harris’ fault. She started it! “@shelleywriter: Here’s some book porn from my blog: http://t.co/cRJyNRVe

Ok, my bookshelves are tucked in under my stairs and are currently part my books, part Kerry’s records and part Mollies ‘art stuff’, but I WILL make it into a beautiful rainbow. You see if I don’t. In fact, you can see that I’ve already had a little test at the top of my shelves. I jumped in without proper planning and had to sit back and contemplate a bit more. But I’ll get there.

Updates on The Summer Project(s) to follow.

Not exclusive but inclusive

In the last ten years the fight for gay equality has come a long way. In 2004 we won the right to enter into a civil partnership. In 2009 we won the right to have our names on the birth certificates of our children and the legal parental responsibility rights that come with it.

Now we are fighting for equality in marriage.

I don’t believe that we are fighting for ‘gay marriage’. It sounds too exclusive, as if we need a special kind of marriage for gay people, a bit more pink and sparkly.

We don’t want to be exclusive, we want to be included.

We already have legal rights and responsibilities when we enter in to a commitment with each other and we use the terminology of a marriage. We have that in the form of civil partnerships. And it works for us. I already refer to myself as married and to Kerry as my wife. Our civil partnership was our wedding and we are in a marriage. What we are fighting for now is equality. Inclusion. Why should we be legally excluded from civil marriage? We deserve the same legal rights as others and we are campaigning to get them.

The author Shelley Harris has summed it up beautifully in her blog.* “The inequality which currently exists will be seen as barbaric, in the same way in which we now view male-only voting or Apartheid as barbaric.” She sees it for what it is, inequality. We don’t want to change marriage, or break it, we just want the right to take part.

Those who are voicing their disagreement and disgust are claiming that marriage is, and should remain, a union between man and woman. I understand their belief that religious weddings should remain between man and woman. Fine, great, as you were. But why civil weddings? We are not asking for the right to marry in a church, or any other religious establishment. We are asking for the equal right to a civil marriage by the state. No religion, no special circumstances or agendas. Just two people who love each other enough to make a legally binding commitment to each other, being legally allowed to make that commitment.

So to the dissenters, I hand you over to the chief executive of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, ‘Our strong advice to anyone who disagrees with same-sex marriage is not to get married to someone of the same sex.’**

* http://www.shelleyharris.co.uk
**http://t.co/IsszWBA5 this website explodes the main myths surrounding the equal marriage campaign and also has a link to the petition to support it.